By TMoM Team Member Dani Luft

Being Jewish and living in the North Carolina, I get A LOT of questions about being Jewish and especially around this time of year when it feels that we are separated from the rest of the world who celebrates Christmas. The truth is that Christmas and Hannukah are rooted in the same things—family, warmth, giving, and love. This year, Hannukah runs from December 17 – 24th. Here are some questions that I frequently get during this season. I welcome your own questions that aren’t answered here and I will try to respond.

Q: What is the correct spelling of the holiday of Hannukah? I have seen it spelled so many ways!
A: There is no correct way to spell Hannukah…er, Chanukah. They are all right so pick your favorite and go with it!

Q: Why do you celebrate Hannukah?
A: There are a couple of versions of the reason we celebrate it. The most popular is that around 165 BCE, the Syrian-Greeks defiled the Holy Temple with statues of Zeus and other Greek gods. A Jewish family, the Maccabees, fought the overwhelmingly large Syrian-Greek army and won. In order to re-dedicate the Temple, the Maccabees needed to relight the sacred lamp, a seven-branched menorah. There was only a tiny bit of oil found, enough to last only one day. Instead, it miraculously burned for eight days. Another name for Hannukah is the Festival of Lights.

Q: Why is Hannukah eight days long?
A: It was a miracle that the oil lasted eight days, so we celebrate the holiday for eight days.

Q: What is that candleabra-looking thing that symbolizes Chanukah?
A: That is called the Menorah, which was found in the remains of the Temple after the Syrian Greeks destroyed it. We use it to light a candle each night of Chanukah. We say blessings before we light it, thanking God for this beautiful season. We continue adding to it until we have all eight candles lit on the last night.

Q: Do you have any special foods that you eat during this holiday?
A: Yes! Because the oil lasted for 8 days, it is traditional to eat oily foods. We eat potato pancakes called latkes that are fried in oil. We also eat jelly doughnuts because doughnuts are also fried in oil.

Q: So, Santa does not come visit your house?
A: No, Santa does not come, but in many family traditions, children get one present each night after lighting the menorah.

Q: What other traditions do you have for this holiday?
A: It is traditional to play a game of dreidel, which is like a little spinning top that has letters on it. You can play with any number of players. Each player has an equal number of game pieces such as pennies, m & m’s, raisins, etc. When you begin, everyone puts one game piece in the “pot” and every time the pot becomes empty, each player must put one in the pot to keep the game going. Each player takes a turn spinning the dreidel and whatever Hebrew letter the dreidel lands on, there is a specific task to do with your game pieces such as take half of the pot, put one in, take all, or do nothing. When one person has won everything, the game is over!

Q: When does Hannukah start this year and why is the date different every year?
A: This year, the first night of Hannukah starts on December 8th. The Jewish calendar is based on the lunar calendar, so the English dates of holidays are always different.

Q: So if you don’t celebrate Christmas, what do you do on December 25th?
A: There is a little joke that usually Jewish people go to the movies and have Chinese food because those are the only two things that are open that day. It is usually a beautifully quiet, relaxing day that I always look forward to spending with family. In Greensboro, some members of the Jewish community also volunteer their time at local hospitals and others places to give those who celebrate Christmas a chance to take time off with their families.

I love this time of year and really enjoy learning about other people’s holidays and traditions. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to ask by commenting below!